Centres of influence

2010’s two-day SAP Influencer Summit gathered an audience of over 100 of the industry’s top analysts, media professionals, academics, business thought leaders, and bloggers. SAP’s expanded online presence made the 2011 Influencer Summit SAP’s biggest yet. But did SAP’s announcements measure up to the hype? Anne Widjaja reports on what the influencers themselves had to say.

The ‘new’ SAP
Jonathan Becher, chief marketing officer, SAP, opened the Boston summit by trumpeting a “new” SAP that “thinks outside in more than it thinks inside out”. Becher emphasised that most importantly, the new SAP was “a company that puts our customers and our partners first”. This new outlook was matched by the ambitious goal for SAP to become the world’s second largest database vendor by 2015 – a claim made by Steve Lucas, global GM and senior executive, business analytics and technology, SAP.

One of the most touted SAP achievements of 2011 was SAP’s mobile expansion. Sybase executive vice president and head of SAP mobile applications, Dr Raj Nathan highlighted in his keynote speech that SAP had met its goal of releasing 30+ line-of-business mobile apps and currently had 17.5 million total end user seats sold. Nathan suggested that the SAP/Sybase platform is meeting these ambitious goals by responding to mobility trends, including the need to manage the entire lifecycle of both consumer and enterprise apps, improve the user interface of apps, and accommodate developers who want to use HTML5 technology.

While bloggers were surprised that the summit did not become the “HANA-lyst” event expected, Dr Vishal Sikka, SAP executive board member and chief technology officer, did focus in his keynote on an important discussion of HANA. Announcing that HANA sales had just reached US$100 million, Sikka explained that the platform’s unique ability to hold data and process it in RAM instead of reading it off disks meant that it was capable of performing 1000 times faster than conventional relational databases.

Social ambassador for SAP HANA and technology, Dorothea Sieber, commented on a blog post, “even though Vishal was streamed virtually, influencers were very pleased with his keynote and said it was the most realistic and comprehensive discussion of SAP HANA they’ve seen”.

The HANA in-memory database was also positioned as the centre of the reinvention of SAP’s software architecture. Sikka explained that HANA architecture could serve as more than a database, functioning as a platform used for both existing products and applications, and for building entirely new applications. Sikka announced the comeback of renewed apps such as Dynamic Cash Management, and the development of entirely new HANA-based apps. He used as an example an app for Chinese retail customers, which compares different retailers and their collections in real time, and highlighted the increasing level of industry adoption of SAP HANA, with new clients such as TIBCO, Tableau and Jive.

While little was revealed about the new partnership between SAP and TIBCO, blogger Dennis Howlett spoke to Murray Rode, COO of TIBCO, and discovered that TIBCO is expected to help “SAP fill gaps in analytics and social computing in the context of customers needing insights from huge volumes of data going through the SAP HANA system and in real time”.

The cloud
Although influencers were hoping to hear more on SAP’s recent US$3.4 billion acquisition of SuccessFactors, the largest enterprise cloud apps vendor in the world, SAP executives revealed little about the move, despite the focus of the two-day summit being SAP’s cloud strategy.
Jim Hagemann Snabe, co-CEO, SAP, announced in his keynote address: “The combination of our assets and SuccessFactors moves us from a company that has been trying to get it right… to one that will accelerate rapidly in this world. We’re now going from a defensive mode to an offensive mode.”

Blogger Brian Sommer believes that this move has the potential to make SAP a “more formidable and relevant competitor to Workday and Salesforce.com”.

Peter Lorenz, executive vice president, OnDemand and corporate officer, SAP, announced that SAP plans to roll out services that will integrate both SAP applications running on the cloud, and third-party applications running locally in a customer’s data centre. Simultaneously, SAP is also developing a new platform-as-a-service (PaaS) which will be based on the in-memory computing technology in HANA, allowing developers to create cloud applications in either SAP’s ABAP language or Java. This focus on developing SAP’s cloud ecosystem also involves collaborating with partners such as Google, which will leverage SAP’s BusinessObjects processes and the Google App engine in order to integrate document and data flows.

Greg Tomb, recently appointed head of global on-demand sales and go-to-market, SAP, also announced the recruitment of a new sales team of almost 500 people dedicated solely to cloud apps, such as Business ByDesign, Sales OnDemand, and Sourcing OnDemand. However it may not all be sunshine and roses in the OnDemand space – bloggers have commented that this new direction may be indicative of the death of Career OnDemand.

SME: a growth story
Snabe said in his keynote speech that the largest growth in the market would come from SMEs. According to Snabe, SAP Business One is one of the most successful reporting systems for SMEs in the industry, with more than 32,000 customers currently using the system, growing by 15 new users a day.
In a video blog wrap-up on day one of the summit, Howlett critiqued SAP for lacking in their development of SME-targeted software. He argued that they could learn more from basic SME software developers, in areas such as cash management, in order to better meet the needs of SMEs.

He wrote on his blog: “SAP is going to need hundreds if not thousands of apps to support vanilla solutions like ByDesign and BusinessOne. While SAP has millions of developers in its community, it doesn’t have enough of the right kind of developers who can work in agile fashion.”

By contrast, Howlett praised the number of SAP executives that recognised the subsequent need to “radically simplify enablement of the developer community in technologies like HANA, Sybase Unwired Platform, Gateway, NetWeaver and others”.

The wrap-up
Commentators have been generally positive about the outcome of the 2011 SAP Influencer Summit. SAP’s announcements show a clear vision for the year ahead.

However, critics like Sommer have suggested that SAP’s creation of more on-demand apps will cost businesses more money without delivering any additional value, as these apps are not replacing any existing modules. Sommer also argues that while SAP’s development of their cloud strategy is notable, SAP is still far behind competitors such as salesforce.com and NetSuite.

Howlett also raised the issue of encouraging developers to create apps using SAP software, and said it is unlikely that SAP can overshadow players like Apple.

With the challenges and opportunities ahead, it seems that 2012 will be an interesting year for SAP. Only time will tell how successfully they will execute these plans for next year.

 This article was first published in Inside SAP December 2011.  

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